Maduro apparently groomed for rotation

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Righty given four innings

Mercedes limited to one

March 16, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- At this stage of the spring, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove refuses to begin defining roles in the rotation or the bullpen. But the signs are becoming more obvious.

Calvin Maduro, who is competing for the fifth starter's job while Scott Erickson recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow, was allowed to go four innings yesterday in the Orioles' 2-0 loss to the Texas Rangers at Charlotte Stadium. He struggled in the first, allowing two hits and a run, and walking one, but blanked the Rangers during the last three innings.

Maduro is scheduled to start again Monday while most Orioles enjoy their only day off. He'll go to the minor-league complex in Sarasota to face the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Hargrove attempts to keep him on four days' rest.

Meanwhile, Jose Mercedes again was held to one inning yesterday, this time getting through the seventh without allowing a run. He also is in the mix for the fifth starter's job, but appears to be more of a candidate to pitch in long relief by the way he's being used.

Can anything be read into this? "No, not yet," Hargrove said. "I think you can look at the way we have it set up and get an idea there are seven or eight guys we're looking at. I'd be lying if I said Calvin Maduro wasn't involved in the competition for one of the roles and maybe doing real well in winning that spot. But all of that will settle itself out."

Maduro helped his cause yesterday by picking off Royce Clayton in the first inning after issuing a leadoff walk. He allowed a two-out hit to Gabe Kapler in the second and a one-out infield hit to Clayton in the third before retiring the last five batters he faced. Maduro walked one and struck out three in his longest outing of the spring.

"I was rushing too much out there in the first inning," said Maduro, who is out of options and must clear waivers before being sent to the minors. "After that, I went back out there and was more relaxed."

Pitching coach Sammy Ellis suggested after the game that Maduro change his routine in the bullpen before his next start.

"He said, `Next time you're warming up, we'll have a different plan,' " said Maduro, who has given up three runs and nine hits in 10 innings.

As for the possibility of joining the rotation, which becomes more realistic with each outing, Maduro said: "I know I'm in the mix to win the spot, but I'm not going to think about it when I go out there. Even if I win a job in the bullpen, I'll be happy. I just want to stay with this team."

Palmeiro healthy, optimistic

Former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro was denied a home run in the first inning yesterday when a strong wind knocked the ball down on the warning track, where center fielder Eugene Kingsale made the catch. Ivan Rodriguez, who had singled in a run, was so sure the ball was going out that he already had rounded second base and was doubled off first.

Palmeiro was batting .320 with one homer and two RBIs in nine games before yesterday. His right knee, which he had scoped last spring, still isn't fully recovered, but he's able to play first base and drive the ball as consistently as ever.

"The knee's much better," he said. "It's not 100 percent, and I don't know that it'll ever be 100 percent, but it feels pretty good. I still run OK. I'm running a lot better than last year, though I'm not trying to go all-out right now. I'm not limited. I can do whatever I have to do."

Palmeiro endorsed the changes made by the Rangers' front office over the winter, even the blockbuster deal that sent his friend, Juan Gonzalez, to the Detroit Tigers.

Asked whether there was a different feeling without Gonzalez, Palmeiro said: "It's a positive feeling. We've got young players coming in now, like Ruben Mateo and Gabe Kapler -- guys who can be impact players right away. We wanted to get younger. That was a must. The big thing is everybody is focused and excited. We have big goals. We're trying to get to the World Series.

"I personally miss Juan because he was a close friend. But baseball's a business and people move on. We have to make the best of what we have."

The Rangers added three left-handers to their rotation, including Darren Oliver, who started yesterday and no-hit the Orioles for 4 1/3 innings. People within the industry interpreted the moves as being linked to the New York Yankees, who are more vulnerable to left-handed pitching. But Palmeiro said it's too early to begin thinking about the two-time defending world champions, who have become a postseason thorn in the Rangers' side.

"I'm not worried about the Yankees," he said. "Everybody keeps talking about the lefties and the Yankees, but we've got to get to the playoffs and they've got to get to the playoffs, and then there's got to be a matchup. We can't worry about the Yankees much. I don't think they're worried about us."

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